“I don’t even think of you as disabled”

“That’s because I’ve spent the last thirty years doing everything I can to pretend it doesn’t exist, to the detriment of my own sense of identity and wellbeing.”

At least, that’s what I want to say. Instead, I laugh bashfully, and respond with what I think they want to hear, “Oh, that’s such a compliment for someone in my situation”.

I have done a lot of bashful laughter in my lifetime. I have previously considered the phrase, “I don’t think of you as disabled / I don’t even notice your wheelchair” as one of the most genuinely profound acknowledgments I could ever receive. But at the ripe old age of 31, I’m starting to think it’s a little bit nuts.

More specifically, I’m starting to appreciate the toll that 31 years of disability-minimisation is taking on my own sense of self. When asked my perspective on disability pride, for instance, my internal reaction is something along the lines of, “Oh, you mean this thing I’ve been ignoring so that no one is made to feel uncomfortable around me?”. It’s hard to be proud of something you’ve been conditioned to feel shame about.

In truth, this thing that I’ve spent years being chill with is suddenly making its presence felt in intensely personal ways. All of a sudden, “I don’t even think of you as disabled” feels like a form of abuse. Consider: “I don’t even think of you as / Maori / gay / a woman!”. There you go.

3 comments

  1. So much this. When I hear ‘I don’t see you as disabled’, I hear ‘I don’t like a core part of your identity, and also rather than face the issues of how society is disabling you I’m just going to pretend it doesn’t exist’.

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  2. I just discovered your blog, and I really enjoy your writing! My question to you is about the assumptions tied to disability. I’ve recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which I suppose officially makes me part of the one in four who identify with some kind of disability. However, I don’t think of me as disabled? Maybe it’s due to the newness of the diagnosis, but how do you respond to someone who is ‘disabled’ and doesn’t think of themselves in that way? Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

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